Freeway feat. Jay-Z and Beanie Siegel – “What We Do”

Released: 10.29.02

Peak: #97

For all his mic expertise, I’m convinced that Jay-Z’s great legacy will be as a fairly gifted A&R guy. Long before his ascension to Def Jam, Jay expanded Roc-a-Fella from a state of mind to a creative machine with a sense of sonic branding less common in MCs than in producers. Just Blaze and Kanye weren’t just the slickest up-and-comers–their styles complemented each other and established a genuine Roc house sound. Beanie Siegel was no slouch as a number-two, and though I’m not gonna go so far as to rep for Bleek, between drafting the Diplomats and letting Kanye on the mic, Jay had himself a nice little farm system.

Granted, those dudes could be a smidgen smug for my tastes. But with his “fuck a Bentley or a Lexus” lack of posturing and his trademark ghetto-Amish beard, Freeway was the one Roc MC I could all-out root for. “What We Do” samples Creative Source’s “I Just Can’t See Myself Without You,” exactly the sort of lush 70s mush Just Blaze exists to transfigure into greatness, and it’s a production that plays to Freeway’s strengths as an MC. Despite his puppyish eagerness, reminiscent of Ghostface in timbre and cadence, he rides the beat with a fairly traditional deliberateness, and so that rising string swell, cut short by that sharp drum fill, perfectly suits his urgency.

Far from upstaging Freeway, his guest labelmates highlight the collaborative instinct in an MC who’s among rap’s finer team players. Sorry, there’s just something about Freeway just gathers up hackneyed sportswriting jargon like a magnet to iron filings. So let me end by saying that though his ’09 song-a-day publicity stunt offered fewer gems than you’d hope, as did The Stimulus Package, both proved him still deserving of the ultimate sports cliché: The kid’s got heart.

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